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348

CHAPTER XXVII

CHRISTIAN DUTY; IN CIVIL LIFE AND OTHERWISE: LOVE

Romans xiii. 1-10

A NEW topic now emerges, distinct, yet in close and natural connexion. We have been listening to precepts for personal and social life, all rooted in that inmost characteristic of Christian morals, self-surrender, self-submission to God. Loyalty to others in the Lord has been the theme. In the circles of home, of friendship, of the Church; in the open field of intercourse with men in general, whose personal enmity or religious persecution was so likely to cross the path—in all these regions the Christian was to act on the principle of supernatural submission, as the sure way to spiritual victory.

The same principle is now carried into his relations with the State. As a Christian, he does not cease to be a citizen, to be a subject. His deliverance from the death-sentence of the Law of God only binds him, in his Lord's name, to a loyal fidelity to human statute; limited only by the case where such statute may really contradict the supreme divine law. The disciple of Christ, as such, while his whole being has received an emancipation unknown elsewhere, is to be the faithful 349 subject of the Emperor, the orderly inhabitant of his quarter in the City, the punctual taxpayer, the ready giver of not a servile yet a genuine deference to the representatives and ministers of human authority.

This is he to do for reasons both general and special. In general, it is his Christian duty rather to submit than otherwise, where conscience toward God is not in the question. Not weakly, but meekly, he is to yield rather than resist in all his intercourse, purely personal, with men; and therefore with the officials of order, as men. But in particular also, he is to understand that civil order is not only a desirable thing, but divine; it is the will of God for the social Race made in His Image. In the abstract, this is absolutely so; civil order is a God-given law, as truly as the most explicit precepts of the Decalogue, in whose Second Table it is so plainly implied all along. And in the concrete, the civil order under which the Christian finds himself to be is to be regarded as a real instance of this great principle. It is quite sure to be imperfect, because it is necessarily mediated through human minds and wills. Very possibly it may be gravely distorted, into a system seriously oppressive of the individual life. As a fact, the supreme magistrate for the Roman Christians in the year 58 was a dissolute young man, intoxicated by the discovery that he might do almost entirely as he pleased with the lives around him; by no defect however in the idea and purpose of Roman law, but by fault of the degenerate world of the day. Yet civil authority, even with a Nero at its head, was still in principle a thing divine. And the Christian's attitude to it was to be always that of a willingness, a purpose, to obey; an absence of the resistance whose motive lies in self-assertion. 350 Most assuredly his attitude was not to be that of the revolutionist, who looks upon the State as a sort of belligerent power, against which he, alone or in company, openly or in the dark, is free to carry on a campaign. Under even heavy pressure the Christian is still to remember that civil government is, in its principle, "of God." He is to reverence the Institution in its idea. He is to regard its actual officers, whatever their personal faults, as so far dignified by the Institution that their governing work is to be considered always first in the light of the Institution. The most imperfect, even the most erring, administration of civil order is still a thing to be respected before it is criticized. In its principle, it is a "terror not to good works, but to the evil."

It hardly needs elaborate remark to shew that such a precept, little as it may accord with many popular political cries of our time, means anything in the Christian but a political servility, or an indifference on his part to political wrong in the actual course of government. The religion which invites every man to stand face to face with God in Christ, to go straight to the Eternal, knowing no intermediary but His Son, and no ultimate authority but His Scripture, for the certainties of the soul, for peace of conscience, for dominion over evil in himself and in the world, and for more than deliverance from the fear of death, is no friend to the tyrants of mankind. We have seen how, by enthroning Christ in the heart, it inculcates a noble inward submissiveness. But from another point of view it equally, and mightily, develops the noblest sort of individualism. It lifts man to a sublime independence of his surroundings, by joining him direct to God in Christ, by making him the Friend of God. No wonder then that, in the course of history, 351 Christianity, that is to say the Christianity of the Apostles, of the Scriptures, has been the invincible ally of personal conscience and political liberty, the liberty which is the opposite alike of licence and of tyranny. It is Christianity which has taught men calmly to die, in face of a persecuting Empire, or of whatever other giant human force, rather than do wrong at its bidding. It is Christianity which has lifted innumerable souls to stand upright in solitary protest for truth and against falsehood, when every form of governmental authority has been against them. It was the student of St Paul who, alone before the great Diet, uttering no denunciation, temperate and respectful in his whole bearing, was yet found immovable by Pope and Emperor: "I can not otherwise; so help me God." We may be sure that if the world shuts the Bible it will only the sooner revert, under whatever type of government, to essential despotism, whether it be the despotism of the master, or that of the man. The "individual" indeed will "wither." The Autocrat will find no purely independent spirits in his path. And what then shall call itself, however loudly, "Liberty, Fraternity, Equality," will be found at last, where the Bible is unknown, to be the remorseless despot of the personality, and of the home.

It is Christianity which has peacefully and securely freed the slave, and has restored woman to her true place by the side of man. But then, Christianity has done all this in a way of its own. It has never flattered the oppressed, nor inflamed them. It has told impartial truth to them, and to their oppressors. One of the least hopeful phenomena of present political life is the adulation (it cannot be called by another name) too frequently offered to the working classes by 352 their leaders, or by those who ask their suffrages. A flattery as gross as any ever accepted by complacent monarchs is almost all that is now heard about themselves by the new master-section of the State. This is not Christianity, but its parody. The Gospel tells uncompromising truth to the rich, but also to the poor. Even in the presence of pagan slavery it laid the law of duty on the slave, as well as on his master. It bade the slave consider his obligations rather than his rights; while it said the same, precisely, and more at length, and more urgently, to his lord. So it at once avoided revolution and sowed the living seed of immense, and salutary, and ever-developing reforms. The doctrine of spiritual equality, and spiritual connexion, secured in Christ, came into the world as the guarantee for the whole social and political system of the truest ultimate political liberty. For it equally chastened and developed the individual, in relation to the life around him.

Serious questions for practical casuistry may be raised, of course, from this passage. Is resistance to a cruel despotism never permissible to the Christian? In a time of revolution, when power wrestles with power, which power is the Christian to regard as "ordained of God"? It may be sufficient to reply to the former question that, almost self-evidently, the absolute principles of a passage like this take for granted some balance and modification by concurrent principles. Read without any such reserve, St Paul leaves here no alternative, under any circumstances, to submission. But he certainly did not mean to say that the Christian must submit to an imperial order to sacrifice to the Roman gods. It seems to follow that the letter of the precept does not pronounce it inconceivable that 353 a Christian, under circumstances which leave his action unselfish, truthful, the issue not of impatience but of conviction, might be justified in positive resistance; such resistance as was offered to oppression by the Huguenots of the Cevennes, and by the Alpine Vaudois before them. But history adds its witness to the warnings of St Paul, and of his Master, that almost inevitably it goes ill in the highest respects with saints who "take the sword," and that the purest victories for freedom are won by those who "endure grief, suffering wrongfully," while they witness for right and Christ before their oppressors. The Protestant pastors of Southern France won a nobler victory than any won by Jean Cavalier in the field of battle when, at the risk of their lives, they met in the woods to draw up a solemn document of loyalty to Louis XV.; informing him that their injunction to their flocks always was, and always would be, "Fear God, honour the King."

Meanwhile Godet, in some admirable notes on this passage, remarks that it leaves the Christian not only not bound to aid an oppressive government by active co-operation, but amply free to witness aloud against its wrong; and that his "submissive but firm conduct is itself a homage to the inviolability of authority. Experience proves that it is in this way all tyrannies have been morally broken, and all true progress in the history of humanity effected."

What the servant of God should do with his allegiance at a revolutionary crisis is a grave question for any whom it may unhappily concern. Thomas Scott, in a useful note on our passage, remarks that "perhaps nothing involves greater difficulties, in very many instances, than to ascertain to whom the authority justly belongs.... Submission in all things lawful to 'the 354 existing authorities' is our duty at all times and in all cases; though in civil convulsions ... there may frequently be a difficulty in determining which are 'the existing authorities.'" In such cases "the Christian," says Godet, "will submit to the new power as soon as the resistance of the old shall have ceased. In the actual state of matters he will recognize the manifestation of God's will, and will take no part in any reactionary plot."

As regards the problem of forms or types of government, it seems clear that the Apostle lays no bond of conscience on the Christian. Both in the Old Testament and in the New a just monarchy appears to be the ideal. But our Epistle says that "there is no power but of God." In St Paul's time the Roman Empire was in theory, as much as ever, a republic, and in fact a personal monarchy. In this question, as in so many others of the outward framework of human life, the Gospel is liberal in its applications, while it is, in the noblest sense, conservative in principle.

We close our preparatory comments, and proceed to the text, with the general recollection that in this brief paragraph we see and touch as it were the corner-stone of civil order. One side of the angle is the indefeasible duty, for the Christian citizen, of reverence for law, of remembrance of the religious aspect of even secular government. The other side is the memento to the ruler, to the authority, that God throws His shield over the claims of the State only because authority was instituted not for selfish but for social ends, so that it belies itself if it is not used for the good of man.

Let every soul, every person, who has "presented his body a living sacrifice," be submissive to the ruling authorities; manifestly, from the context, 355 the authorities of the State. For there is no authority except by God;223223Read ὑπὸ not ἀπό. but the existing authorities have been appointed by God. That is, the imperium of the King Eternal is absolutely reserved; an authority not sanctioned by Him is nothing; man is no independent source of power and law. But then, it has pleased God so to order human life and history, that His will in this matter is expressed, from time to time, in and through the actual constitution of the state. So that the opponent of the authority withstands the ordinance of God, not merely that of man; but the withstanders will on themselves bring sentence of judgment; not only the human crime of treason, but the charge, in the court of God, of rebellion against His will. This is founded on the idea of law and order, which means by its nature the restraint of public mischief and the promotion, or at least protection, of public good. "Authority," even under its worst distortions, still so far keeps that aim that no human civic power, as a fact, punishes good as good, and rewards evil as evil; and thus for the common run of lives the worst settled authority is infinitely better than real anarchy. For rulers, as a class (οἱ ἄρχοντες), are not a terror to the good deed, but to the evil; such is always the fact in principle, and such, taking human life as a whole, is the tendency, even at the worst, in practice, where the authority in any degree deserves its name. Now do you wish not to be afraid of the authority? do what is good, and you shall have praise from it; the "praise," at least, of being unmolested and protected. For God's agent (διάκονος) he is to you, for what is good; through his function God, in providence, carries out 356 His purposes of order. But if you are doing what is evil, be afraid; for not for nothing (εἰκῆ), not without warrant, nor without purpose, does he wear his (τὴν) sword, symbol of the ultimate power of life and death; for God's agent is he, an avenger, unto wrath, for the practiser of the evil. Wherefore, because God is in the matter, it is a necessity to submit, not only because of the wrath, the ruler's wrath in the case supposed, but because of the conscience too; because you know, as a Christian, that God speaks through the state and through its minister, and that anarchy is therefore disloyalty to Him. For on this account too you pay taxes; the same commission which gives the state the right to restrain and punish gives it the right to demand subsidy from its members, in order to its operations; for God's ministers are they, His λειτουργοί, a word so frequently used in sacerdotal connexions that it well may suggest them here; as if the civil ruler were, in his province, an almost religious instrument of divine order; God's ministers, to this very end persevering in their task; working on in the toils of administration, for the execution, consciously or not, of the divine plan of social peace.

This is a noble point of view, alike for governed and for governors, from which to consider the prosaic problems and necessities of public finance. Thus understood, the tax is paid not with a cold and compulsory assent to a mechanical exaction, but as an act in the line of the plan of God. And the tax is devised and demanded, not merely as an expedient to adjust a budget, but as a thing which God's law can sanction, in the interests of God's social plan. Discharge therefore to all men, to all men in authority, primarily, but not only, their dues; the tax, to whom 357 you owe the tax, on person and property; the toll, to whom the toll, on merchandise; the fear, to whom the fear, as to the ordained punisher of wrong; the honour, to whom the honour, as to the rightful claimant in general of loyal deference.

Such were the political principles of the new Faith, of the mysterious Society, which was so soon to perplex the Roman statesman, as well as to supply convenient victims to the Roman despot. A Nero was shortly to burn Christians in his gardens as a substitute for lamps, on the charge that they were guilty of secret and horrible orgies. Later, a Trajan, grave and anxious, was to order their execution as members of a secret community dangerous to imperial order. But here is a private missive sent to this people by their leader, reminding them of their principles, and prescribing their line of action. He puts them in immediate spiritual contact, every man and woman of them, with the Eternal Sovereign, and so he inspires them with the strongest possible independence, as regards "the fear of man." He bids them know, for a certainty, that the Almighty One regards them, each and all, as accepted in His Beloved, and fills them with His great Presence, and promises them a coming heaven from which no earthly power or terror can for a moment shut them out. But in the same message, and in the same Name, he commands them to pay their taxes to the pagan State, and to do so, not with the contemptuous indifference of the fanatic, who thinks that human life in its temporal order is God-forsaken, but in the spirit of cordial loyalty and ungrudging deference, as to an authority representing in its sphere none other than their Lord and Father.

It has been suggested that the first serious antagonism 358 of the state towards these mysterious Christians was occasioned by the inevitable interference of the claims of Christ with the stern and rigid order of the Roman Family. A power which could assert the right, the duty, of a son to reject his father's religious worship was taken to be a power which meant the destruction of all social order as such; a nihilism indeed. This was a tremendous misunderstanding to encounter. How was it to be met? Not by tumultuary resistance, not even by passionate protests and invectives. The answer was to be that of love, practical and loyal, to God and man, in life and, when occasion came, in death.224224"To believe, to suffer, and to love, was the primitive taste" (Milner). Upon the line of that path lay at least the possibility of martyrdom, with its lions and its funeral piles; but the end of it was the peaceful vindication of the glory of God and of the Name of Jesus, and the achievement of the best security for the liberties of man.

Congenially then the Apostle closes these precepts of civil order with the universal command to love. Owe nothing to anyone; avoid absolutely the social disloyalty of debt; pay every creditor in full, with watchful care; except the loving one another. Love is to be a perpetual and inexhaustible debt, not as if repudiated or neglected, but as always due and always paying; a debt, not as a forgotten account is owing to the seller, but as interest on capital is continuously owing to the lender. And this, not only because of the fair beauty of love, but because of the legal duty of it: For the lover of his fellow (τὸν ἕτερον, "the other man," be he who he may, with whom the man has to do) has fulfilled the law, the law of the Second Table, the code 359 of man's duty to man, which is in question here. He "has fulfilled" it; as having at once entered, in principle and will, into its whole requirement; so that all he now needs is not a better attitude but developed information. For the, "Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not murder, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,225225This clause is perhaps to be omitted here. Thou shalt not covet," and whatever other commandment there is, all is summed up in this utterance, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Lev. xix. 18). Love works the neighbour no ill; therefore love is the Law's fulfilment.

Is it a mere negative precept then? Is the life of love to be only an abstinence from doing harm, which may shun thefts, but may also shun personal sacrifices? Is it a cold and inoperative "harmlessness," which leaves all things as they are? We see the answer in part in those words, "as thyself." Man "loves himself," (in the sense of nature, not of sin,) with a love which instinctively avoids indeed what is repulsive and noxious, but does so because it positively likes and desires the opposite. The man who "loves his neighbour as himself" will be as considerate of his neighbour's feelings as of his own, in respect of abstinence from injury and annoyance. But he will be more; he will be actively desirous of his neighbour's good. "Working him no evil," he will reckon it as much "evil" to be indifferent to his positive true interests as he would reckon it unnatural to be apathetic about his own. "Working him no evil," as one who "loves him as himself," he will care, and seek, to work him good.

"Love," says Leibnitz, in reference to the great controversy on Pure Love agitated by Fénelon and 360 Bossuet, "is that which finds its felicity in another'sngood."226226See Card. Bausset, Vie de Fénelon, ii. 375. Leibnitz, in a letter to T. Burnet, quotes the words from a work of his own; Amare est felicitate alterius delectari. Such an agent can never terminate its action in a mere cautious abstinence from wrong.

The true divine commentary on this brief paragraph is the nearly contemporary passage written by the same author, 1 Cor. xiii. There, as we saw above, the description of the sacred thing, love, like that of the heavenly state in the Revelation, is given largely in negatives. Yet who fails to feel the wonderful positive of the effect? That is no merely negative innocence which is greater than mysteries, and knowledge, and the use of an angel tongue; greater than self-inflicted poverty, and the endurance of the martyr's flame; "chief grace below, and all in all above." Its blessed negatives are but a form of unselfish action. It forgets itself, and remembers others, and refrains from the least needless wounding of them, not because it wants merely "to live and let live," but because it loves them, finding its felicity in their good.

It has been said that "love is holiness, spelt short." Thoughtfully interpreted and applied, the saying is true. The holy man in human life is the man who, with the Scriptures open before him as his informant and his guide, while the Lord Christ dwells in his heart by faith as his Reason and his Power, forgets himself in a work for others which is kept at once gentle, wise, and persistent to the end, by the love which, whatever else it does, knows how to sympathize and to serve.


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